In our recent blog post about the lessons we have learned over the last six years at Raymond George, we talked about knowing when to leverage your own skills and when to leverage the skills of others. We also discussed the importance of giving and receiving assistance, or asking for help and being generous when helping others. These are key elements of success as a recruiter, but many people unfortunately have trouble asking for help.
They might be perfectly comfortable giving help but less comfortable asking for it. They think it makes them look weak or demanding, that the other person will resent the request, and that they should be able to figure things out for themselves. According to a Harvard Business Review article, research in neuroscience and psychology shows that the social threats involved here, which include “uncertainty, risk of rejection, potential for diminished status, and inherent relinquishing of autonomy,” activate the same brain regions as physical pain. But these fears are misplaced and reality has been found to be quite different from our expectations.
Not only can asking for help make you look intelligent for knowing your own limitations and where to go when you need assistance, it can actually make other people like you more. Asking for help can grow your network and allow you to improve and increase your skill set by learning from others.
Research on asking for help
Research backs up the notion that asking for help actually endears you to other people and makes them like you more. A 1969 experiment found that subjects liked a person better when that person asked for a personal favour, and a 2014 study found that participants who were asked to solve puzzles together with someone else rated their partner higher when the partner asked for help.
More recently, in 2022, researchers at Stanford found that performing acts of kindness increases well-being and that we may be reluctant to ask for help because we underestimate how willing people are to help and how positively they will feel when asked for help. Researcher Xuan Zhao said in a brief, “We consistently observed that help-seekers underestimated how willing strangers – and even friends – would be to help them and how positive helpers would feel afterward, and overestimated how inconvenienced helpers would feel.”
The Ben Franklin effect
None of this is new. There is a proposed psychological phenomenon called The Ben Franklin effect, through which it is suggested that a person who has already performed a favour for another person is more likely to do that person another favour than they would be if they had received a favour from that person.
Franklin wrote in his autobiography (which everyone should read, by the way) “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” Franklin, who was one of the most prolific and creative people in history, shares a single anecdote about the theory in his book, but he likely often used the tactic successfully.
Of course, it’s one thing to know that you should ask for help when you need it, another thing entirely to know how to do so.
Here are 5 tips on how to ask for help successfully.
How to ask for help
1. Get over your fears. You’re going to have to face your reluctance and overcome your fears of asking for help. Read the research on asking for help and do some work on facing your fears in general. Ask yourself what the worst thing that could happen is, and realize that it’s not that bad and the potential benefits far outweigh the risks. Realize that people like to help. It makes them feel good about themselves and when they feel good about themselves they will feel good about the person who made them feel good: you.
2. Be direct. When it’s time to ask for help, just ask. You don’t need to apologize in advance for asking (“I’m so sorry to bother you but…”) or remind them of the time you did them a favour and suggest that they owe you. You want people to help because they want to, not because they feel they have to. The HBR article I mentioned above recommends avoiding language like “May I ask you a favour?” But I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with saying that. It’s a reasonable question. Just ask. “Can you help me with something?” is fine. Attempts at psychological manipulation seem unnecessary. Be polite. Say “please.”
3. Maintain your network, so you’re not asking out of the blue. Nobody enjoys it when they don’t hear from a connection for three years and then that person contacts them out of the blue to ask for a favour. It makes them feel undervalued and makes you look like more of an opportunist than a friend or valuable connection. Stay in touch with your network regularly throughout the year. This doesn’t mean you have to have long phone calls with each other. It might mean a short email or message, or even commenting on their social media posts. Just make sure that they know that you see them and value them always, not only when you need them.
4. Say thank you and show the outcome of their contribution. Show people how their help has benefited you. Follow up with news about the project they helped you with and let them see the result of their contribution. Fundraising organizations are experts at this. Look at organizations like Plan Canada, through which donors who sponsor children in developing countries receive regular updates about their impact on the community and about the child’s education and family life. The children themselves write letters to the donors. It’s a very successful organization.
5. Return the favour when the opportunity arises. As much as we encourage asking for help, we also encourage helping others. It provides a feeling of satisfaction and boosts other people’s esteem of you (though, if we believe Franklin, not as much as letting them help you). It can help you learn and grow and build relationships. Always help others when you are able, even if they haven’t helped you.
Focus on building and nurturing relationships
As a recruiter, you will benefit immensely from quality relationships based on mutual support. The connections in your network are key. They can introduce you to candidates and clients, facilitate further connections, help you learn and build relationships, and more. Focus on building and nurturing those relationships and see the results. These tips on how to ask for help should make it much easier.
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